Book v Film: The Girl On The Train

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Who was it said that following your heart is a good thing? It is pure egotism, a selfishness to conquer all.”

Directed by by Tate Taylor and based on the book by British Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train follows an alcohol divorcee, Rachel (Emily Blunt), who takes the same train to work every single day. As Rachel passes by the same houses, she comes to recognise the people she sees and begins fantasising about the relationships and lives of those that reside there. One of these houses belongs to her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who now lives with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who he cheated on Rachel with, and their baby daughter. A few doors down, Rachel spends most of her commute fantasising about the seemingly happy lives of Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett). But everything changes when Rachel witnesses something from the train window and Megan is later found to be missing, presumed dead. Becoming entangled in a missing person’s investigation, Rachel’s involvement promises to send shockwaves throughout both her past and future.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

The Girl on the Train is the kind of film that I know I would have absolutely loved if I had not read the book beforehand but, being such a fan of the source material, there were too many niggling differences that prevented me from doing so.

Based on one of my favourite books this year, The Girl on the Train is a brilliant and mysterious thriller, led by three powerful and relatable women who take you on an intense journey, switching from the past and present, to reveal the ongoings of a murder investigation and, ultimately, how their lives all interlink.

The performances throughout are all excellent, with Emily Blunt leading the adaptation outstandingly. With excellent support from Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, and Luke Evans, too, this stellar cast make this a film worth remembering.

But judging The Girl on the Train as a film on its own is hard to do when, sadly, the twists don’t translate on-screen as well as they read. My main irritant with the adaptation, therefore, lies in the fact that the film doesn’t shock as much as the book does. The film is dark and sexy, and almost takes on its own edge with the direction handled so well. Yet it doesn’t take you on the same journey as Paula Hawkins‘ book does, and it’s because of that reason that I wasn’t as engaged or as invested, when I found the book so easy to submerge myself into.

You can buy the book here

Although critics seem to love making the comparison between The Girl On The Train and Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl, which was adapted by David Fincher in 2014, the only real similarity is that these are both dark thrillers with female leads, so the comparison is unnecessary. Thrillers are often led by strong female characters these days, take Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy or C.L. Taylor’s The Missing for a more recent example, so to link these two stories together merely because of a woman taking the lead is a waste of time.

Rachel and Gone Girl‘s leading female, Amy, have completely different characteristics, their situations are very different, as is the murder investigation that follows. They may both be in messed up relationships, but we’ve all been there (maybe not to such an extreme, but you know). We’re not comparing this book to any male-led murder mysteries, so we should let The Girl On The Train stand out in its own right because it doesn’t need such comparisons to get any recognition; Hawkins excellent writing skills and character development do that all by themselves.

Differences From The Book:

Once again, there are many small differences from the film to the book, although it does have a very similar feel throughout. That being said, these small alterations are what will prevent fans of the book from enjoying the film as much as they could.

Here are the changes in chronological order:

  • The location has been changed from London to New York. This makes a lot of the settings look different, as it was easy to picture a small London underground station and the track by the houses, which felt less gritty and too upmarket in the film.
  • In the book, Tom and Anna’s house is also supposed to be surrounded by a tall fence, and the train tracks are described as being a lot closer. Again, their house is much more luxurious and the tracks are quite far away, with a scenic landscape in the background.
  • In the book, Rachel drinks gin and tonic out of a can. In the film, she fills a water bottle with vodka.
  • Rachel is also often seen drawing in the film, which is not mentioned in the book.
  • In the film, Rachel is seen getting drunk in town with a stranger, recording a message about how she wants to smash Megan’s head in. This doesn’t happen in the book, but she does make similar threats in her mind.
  • In the book, Rachel bumps into some ex-coworkers in the city and have an awkward conversation. She is then hit by a car and taken to the hospital before the police visit her apartment. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • In the film, Rachel runs out of her apartment to give Riley more information about what she had seen on the train. In the book, Rachel returns to the police station the next day.
  • Detective Gaskill’s role is almost insignificant, as Riley takes over the case in the film and Gaskill merely mutters a few lines. In the book, Gaskill is the main detective who Rachel feels more comfortable around. This does make quite a big change as Rachel is more vulnerable around men whilst, instead, Riley acts too confrontational in the film and points the blame on Rachel almost straight away. In the book, Rachel wants to share information because she trusts Gaskill and believes that he won’t judge her as harshly as Riley will.
  • The film makes it appear like Rachel committed the murder early on, showing what appears to be flashbacks to Megan’s death. In the book, it only comes across as if Rachel is really eager to figure out the facts to help Scott.
  • In the book, Rachel doesn’t go to any kind of AA meeting as she does in the film.
  • In the book, Cathy is much more of a pushover. I imagined her as quite a small, plumpy character. She also has a boyfriend and spends many nights at his. In the film, Cathy is more assertive, and we know very little about her life.
  • In the film, we do get to see the death and burial of Megan’s baby. However, in the book, the press is all over the news. There are headlines asking if Megan is a baby killer, when prompts arguments between Anna and Tom, since Tom allowed her to babysit for their baby.
  • In the book, Megan and Abdic have more of a two-way relationship. They often kiss and have sex, but the film makes it appear like it is all Megan, and we don’t know whether Abdic allows her to take it any further or not. Abdic also tells Megan that she is just ‘referring’ her emotions, but this is not explained in the film.
  • Megan is far too sexualised in the film. It’s obvious that she uses sex as a weapon in the book, and that it’s the only thing that makes her forget about her troubles, but we forget about her real emotions in the film because we only see her having sex/trying it on all the time.
  • Megan’s brother’s death is also hardly mentioned in the film, which she talks about a lot more in the book.
  • Part way through the book, Rachel asks her mother for financial help, but she replies that it’s not a good time. She does help Rachel in the end, commenting that she didn’t realise that it had gotten so bad. There is no mention of her mother in the film.
  • The film makes Scott appear quite brutish straight away. In the book, Rachel and Scott only have one violent confrontation, which is after he finds out that she is an alcoholic and that she doesn’t know Megan. In the film, this confrontation happens in Rachel’s apartment. In the book, this happens at Scott’s house. He drags her into a room and locks her in, where she finds a smashed up photograph of Scott and Megan, which makes her suspicious. This doesn’t happen in the film.
  • Scott and Rachel’s relationship is actually much closer and Rachel even meets Scott’s mum on a few occasions. They then end up getting drunk together and sleeping together. None of this is seen in the film.
  • In the book, Scott and Tom’s houses look very similar, which is why Rachel often gets confused as to whether she has actually been in Scott’s house before or not. When she wakes up with Scott, she even believes that she’s lying next to Tom, because their bedrooms are so similar. In the film, the houses look nothing alike and this is not detailed.
  • Tom and Rachel have a much closer relationship in the book and there are many more interactions between the two. Tom is often nice to her; he gives her money and appears to be looking out for her. In the film, he is much more standoffish.
  • In the book, Rachel recalls a time when Tom went on a trip to Vegas with his Army friends, when they were supposed to be saving money for another round of IVF treatment. This isn’t mentioned in the film.
  • In the book, Tom meets up with Rachel and he drives her to a familiar spot where they talk about her relationship with Scott. Rachel takes it as a sign that he still cares about her, and gets her hopes up that things may be about to change.
  • Anna gets suspicious too early in the film. In the book, Tom lies about meeting up with Rachel. When Anna finds out the truth, that’s when she begins to start checking his emails. In the film, she doesn’t have any apparent reason to start nosing around.
  • In the book, Anna thinks that Tom is having an affair with Rachel at first. We aren’t given enough time to think about this in the film as we are quickly told it is Megan’s phone.
  • It also comes to light in the book that Tom lied about being in the army and about his relationship with parents. Tom tells Anna that he can’t ask them for money help because they have not forgiven him about his divorce with Rachel, when in fact he spent all of their savings and hasn’t talked to them since. There’s also a scene in the book where Rachel comments to Anna that Tom has told her that they won’t leave her home because Anna loves the house too much, when in fact Anna hates the house and train tracks. All of these lies add up to how good a liar Tom is, but none of them are mentioned in the closing scenes.
  • Tom is also hinted at being bad/untrustworthy too early on in the film. In the book, it is at Abdic’s therapy sessions that Rachel begins to remember her relationship with Tom differently. In the film, Rachel begins to realise the truth when she bumps into Martha (who is Carla in the book, and the two do not meet) on the train, who pretty much solves the mystery for her, pretty much ruining the twist before Rachel remembers the night for herself.
  • In the book, there is no mention of Tom being fired or sleeping with his coworkers, as Martha details in the film.
  • In the book, Anna still hates Rachel in the final few scenes, often calling her fat and ugly and shouting at Tom for comparing the two. In the film, she appears to change her opinion of Rachel quite quickly.
  • In the book, Tom is horrible to Anna as well as Rachel in these final scenes, too. He tells Anna why he cheated on her, commenting that she wanted the truth. In the film, he tries to admit his wrongdoings quite guiltily.
  • In the film, Megan sees Rachel in the tunnel and tells Tom that she is following her. In the book, Megan only thinks that someone is following her, and doesn’t know who Rachel is.
  • Andy, the red-haired man on the train, or “Man In Suit” as he is known in the film, has a much bigger part in Rachel’s revelations in the book. In the film, he is very formal and tells Rachel pretty much nothing about the night in question. In the book, he is often smiling at her. They meet on the train again, and when Rachel asks him about the night, he tells her that he saw her with her ex-husband who got into a car and drove away. On the night, Andy also comments that he was in a bar getting drunk with some friends, not just walking home in a suit.
  • At the end of both the book and film, Rachel visits Megan’s grave. In the book, however, Megan’s baby has been buried next to her. This is not seen in the film.

Overall Verdict:

The Girl On The Train feels very similar to its source material, with excellent direction and a cast that can’t be faulted. However, if you were a big fan of the book then there may be many alterations that you find irritating, and the twists aren’t revealed as well as they read. Other than that, both the film and the book are of a brilliant quality and are both a highlight of this year’s releases.

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